And so we’ve made it to the end of our 20 days of digging deeper, and hopefully you’ve been encouraged to continue mining for gems, perhaps keeping your journal into the other 11 months of 2015 and keeping on using the tools that we’ve been mining with.
Today, we come to the last of the nine Fruits of the Spirit Paul mentions in Galatians 5. The first was Love and the last is Self-Control; no coincidence I feel since really these are the two fruits on which the others hinge. We’ve seen that Love encompasses all aspects of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and humility; but it is not possible to cultivate these fruits in our lives without this final vital virtue – self-control. As the picture above illustrates, Love and Self-control are like bookends that hold the others in place. We cannot demonstrate the other virtues and shine for the Lord if we can’t discipline and control self!
As you review what we’ve learned together, what practical steps do you feel you need to take in your life to allow these fruits to grow? How do you feel about this? Determined….excited…..encouraged….ready to persevere?
Or perhaps deep inside you feel a bit defeated…..”I’ll never manage this”….”I won’t stick to it”….”I just can’t control that”….”I won’t be able to change”?
Perhaps you even feel like that with regard to continuing with your Bible studies. You may be relieved to have made it to the end of the 20 days but secretly inside now you know you’ll end up having a more relaxed approach and only study your Bible when you feel like it.
Well that’s where self-control comes in, so let’s learn more about it.
First we will consider what happens in lives where there is no self-control.
Proverbs 5 v 21-23
Proverbs 25 v 28
Joshua 7 v 1-5, 21-26
Note down what Proverbs 5 v 23 says will happen to wicked people who have no discipline. Note that the writer says wicked deeds, coming from a lack of self-control, ensnare (or trap) the people who carry them out.
We often feel it would be great to have a life with no rules or discipline….free to do whatever we feel like, when we feel like it. But this verse reminds us that the opposite is actually true. Having no discipline doesn’t bring freedom – it actually traps us, because our sins are controlling us, rather than us, by God’s Spirit, bringing them under control.
Proverbs 25 v 28 says that if we have no self-control we are like a city that is broken down without any walls. What do you think this means? Remember in the time when Proverbs was written every city had an outer wall for protection, keeping enemies out and the city safe. Can you note down any ways we put ourselves in danger by having no self-control?
Background to Joshua 7:
The Children of Israel were on the brink of conquering the Promised Land. They had just had a wonderful victory marching round the walls of Jericho and miraculously taking over that large city. But God had given them an instruction not to take any of the treasures that they found in Jericho and next they moved on with great optimism to conquer the city of Ai.
Note down what happened in Ai and why it happened.
God revealed to Joshua that it was Achan who had disobeyed Him by taking items from Jericho. Note down how Achan describes his sin in v21:
“I saw….I coveted…..I took.”
At which point should Achan have exercised self-control?
We will always face temptations in life (“I saw”) but we must be careful to immediately say “No!” Once we give the thought a foothold in our minds (by meditating on it or “chewing it over”) it moves on to the next level (“I coveted”) then this is where our protective walls start crumbling down and we allow ourselves open to the final defeat (“I took”).
Notice also how Achan’s sin fits in with our definition above. He saw the treasure and wanted it for himself; it was urgent that he should have it now! (Ever felt like that with that piece of chocolate fudge cake?). So rather than stopping to consider that obeying God’s command was more important and that disobeying would have consequences, he chose what seemed like an urgent need.
What was the sad outcome for Achan? Notice how this matches with the words from Proverbs 5 v 21-23.
Do you think Achan enjoyed having the plunder that he stole?
Note that he had hidden them in the ground inside his tent. What good was that to him? A beautiful garment wasn’t going to bring him any pleasure hidden in a hole in the ground!
Isn’t this the case in our lives? We give in to what the bible refers to as the desires of our flesh because we can’t say “No!” Then how do we feel afterwards? Usually we are immediately hit with regret and guilt and the “pleasure” that we just couldn’t resist, because it seemed so tempting has brought us no lasting joy at all. Let’s try to remember that next time we feel we just can’t say “No!” (for example, next time we’re tempted to hit the snooze button again, even though we’d planned to get up early to pray!).
So how do we cultivate this self-control?
Before we move on to look at some more verses that give us practical help, in your journal make a list of some areas where you feel you need to exercise self-control in your life and learn to say “No!” to self.
These might include:
- Eating too much, or the wrong kinds of things
- Our words – saying things we know we shouldn’t such as gossiping or telling secrets
- Our thoughts – constantly chewing over our troubles or dwelling on things that don’t honour God
- Our money – spending money that we don’t actually have and buying things we can’t afford
- Getting up too late, so we can’t spend time with God and end up rushing into our day without our clothes on (the spiritual ones that is!)
One big area in which we all need to discipline ourselves is in the habit of spending time with God every day. This will require us to say “No!” to all the distractions that try to keep us away from these precious things.
2 Peter 1 v 5-10
Titus 2 v 11-14
Galatians 5 v 16
Mark 14 v 38
There are so many verses here that are rich with advice on how we can let self-control become an abundant fruit in our lives. Take time over them all, perhaps spending a day on each one (remember there is no rush – fruit growing is a life-long affair!). Notice the importance of every word and use all the tools we’ve been working with (your dictionary, concordance and different versions of the Bible) to really dig deep and allow God to speak to you through them. Some points I noted as I looked at these verses were:
2 Peter 1 v 5-10: Keep adding on.
This is a great list of virtues that grow one on top of the other. Note that after self-control comes perseverance. This reminded me that it’s not just about saying “No!” once; it’s a continual pattern. For example, sometimes if I’m trying to discipline my spending I may be really controlled for a few weeks, but then I can easily tell myself I’ve been so good I deserve a treat and suddenly in a moment of focusing on what seems urgent (like buying another pair of shoes) I forget about what’s important (being able to pay my bills and live debt-free) and un-do all my good work! Also note here twice Peter uses the phrase “make every effort”. Self-control is hard work, but the freedom and peace it brings is such a reward!
Titus 2 v 11-14: Remember our Hope
What should we focus on when we’re struggling to say “No!”? Verse 13 reminds us of the great hope we have of seeing the Lord Jesus when He returns. He exercised perfect self-control while here on earth for the purpose of making us pure and good. Surely when we see Him face to face we will be ashamed of the times in our lives when we have let trivial things that seemed urgent and impossible to resist, control us, rather than saying “No!”
Galatians 5 v 16: Walk in the Spirit
This gives us the key to self-control: walk in the Spirit. The Amplified version expands what this means. Pray that God would reveal to you more and more what it means to “walk in the Spirit”.
Some of the practical things we have considered over the past 20 days will help us keep in step with the Spirit, for example:
- meditating (chewing over) our verses at all different times of the day
- making time every morning to put on our spiritual clothes
- setting our minds on things that please God and refusing to veer off course
Check back through your journal and list any others you find.
Mark 14 v 38: Pray ahead of Time
This is a really important one. Jesus told his disciples to “watch and pray” so that they would avoid giving in to temptation. The prayer referred to here is “constantly praying”. Sometimes when the temptation strikes and saying “Yes” and giving in seem so urgent and so appealing, praying is the last thing on our minds. That’s why we need to learn to pray ahead of time. If I know I am weak in a particular area and find it difficult to exercise self-control at certain times or in certain situations, then I must pray in advance. Again, isn’t this encouragement to spend some time each morning getting our spiritual clothes (including our suit of armour!) on? We don’t know what temptations are coming or how strong they will be. We need to have that ammunition of self-control well stocked up in readiness. Only God can give it to us through prayer.
Pray it and Say it!
Some final thoughts on self-control. How often do we say the words “I just can’t help myself” or “I don’t have any will power”? Well let’s remember right now that those are lies! You see right on Day 1 we considered that the fruits of the Spirit are planted in each of us as seeds when we are saved. God has given each of us the fruit of self-control. We can do this, not because we have an iron will, but because we have an amazing, powerful and loving Saviour who longs for us to be fruitful and live pure, self-controlled lives that shine for Him.
The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”
(1 Thessalonians 5 v 24)
Joel 3 v 10 instructs us
Let the weak say, I am strong (a warrior).
Let’s believe God for this strength now!. We can go into battle with self and win, because we go in the strength of the Lord.
As a final encouragement to be strong in our daily battles and cultivate each of the fruits of the Spirit, why not take some time over the next few days to read the story of Gideon, which you’ll find beginning in Judges 6. Verses 11-14 particularly spoke to me about believing that God can do wonderful things in our lives with regard to changing us and giving us victory over all our failures. God says to each one of His children today, even though we may currently feel defeated and useless,
The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.
So let’s go into the rest of 2015 trusting in our Mighty Saviour to change us, shape us and prune us until we are those abundantly fruitful Christians that He has wonderfully planned for us to become.